MORE THAN 200 high-achieving individuals have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. On April 17, the academy announced new members for 2019 include poet and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander, artist Mark Bradford, Columbia University scholar/curator Kellie Jones, First Lady Michelle Obama, and actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith.

“One of the reasons to honor extraordinary achievement is because the pursuit of excellence is so often accompanied by disappointment and self-doubt. We are pleased to recognize the excellence of our new members, celebrate their compelling accomplishments, and invite them to join the Academy and contribute to its work,” Academy President David W. Oxtoby said in a statement.

“With the election of these members, the Academy upholds the ideals of research and scholarship, creativity and imagination, intellectual exchange and civil discourse, and the relentless pursuit of knowledge in all its forms.”


Artist Mark Bradford in his Los Angeles studio, with “Pickett’s Charge” in the background, is among 2019 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. (2017) | Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo by Agata Gravante


LOS ANGELES-BASED Bradford is among the new inductees. The artist represented the United States at the 2017 Venice Biennale and is co-founder of Art + Practice, a nonprofit exhibition space that also provides support services to foster youth. His first exhibition in Washington, D.C., “Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge” is on view at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden through 2021. “Mark Bradford: Los Angeles,” opening in July at the Long Museum in Shanghai, is the artist’s largest exhibition to date in China.

Also recognized for achievements in the visual arts, Jones is a professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University and the author of “South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s” (2017). A 2016 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, she curated the exhibition “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980” and co-curated “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the 1960s.”

The latest class of new American Academy of Arts and Sciences members also includes University of Pennsylvania vice provost and professor of law and philosophy Anita LaFrance Allen, Stanford University senior vice provost for education and vice president for the arts Harry Elam, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s Sherrilyn Ifill, Michel Martin of National Public Radio, former Massachusetts governor Deval L. Patrick, Harvard philosopher Tommie Shelby, University of Chicago professor of American and African American literature Kenneth Warren, Whitney Museum of American Art director Adam D. Weinberg, and Princeton professor of African American religion Judith Weisenfeld.

Author of the bestselling memoir “Becoming,” Obama is among 2019 members, too. The former first lady also made the Time 100 list announced yesterday. President Barack Obama was among inductees to the academy last year.


From left, Elizabeth Alexander. | Photo courtesy Mellon Foundation; and Kellie Jones. | Photo courtesy MacArthur Foundation


FOUNDED IN 1780 by the likes of John Adams and John Hancock, early leaders “who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good,” the 239th class continues the academy’s longstanding tradition of recognizing figures in the arts and sciences, academia, business, government, and public affairs.

Nancy C. Andrews, chair of the academy board of directors said in a statement, “…the members of the class of 2019 embody the founders’ vision of cultivating knowledge that advances, in their words, a ‘free, virtuous, and independent people.’”

Thirty-five years ago, Jasper Johns (1984) was the first visual artist to become a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, according to the academy’s membership directory. Only in about the past decade have African American visual artists been represented among members. David Hammons was the first in 2008. In the years since, inductees have included artists Kara Walker (2012); El Anatsui, Kerry James Marshall, and Carrie Mae Weems (2014); Theaster Gates, Glenn Ligon, and Lorna Simpson (2016); and Faith Ringgold (2017).

Only in about the past decade have African American visual artists been represented among academy members. David Hammons was the first in 2008.

In addition to President Obama, last year’s class of 2018 features a number of members notable for their accomplishments in arts and culture. The list included artist and art historian David C. Driskell, Studio Museum in Harlem director and chief curator Thelma Golden, Los Angeles County Museum of Art director Michael Govan, Duke University art historian Richard Powell, journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, Harvard historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Brooklyn College professor and director of music composition Tania León, and University of Chicago cinema studies professor Jacqueline Stewart, among others.

Earlier inductees include Benjamin Franklin (elected in 1781), Alexander Hamilton (1791), Robert Frost (1931), Leontyne Price (1962), Martin Luther King Jr. (1966), Wynton Marsalis (1997), Quincy Jones (2001), Sidney Poitier (2005), Spike Lee (2007), and Bryan Stevenson (2014).

A 2019 inductee, Alexander heads the Mellon Foundation, a major funder of the arts and humanities. Mellon just awarded $1.5 million to the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, S.C., to support the creation and construction of the forthcoming museum and fund its chief curator position. The museum will focus on exploring the interconnected narrative of the African diaspora and the transatlantic slave trade.

Alexander expressed her gratitude for the membership distinction in a statement on Twitter: “I am deeply honored to be invited into the Academy and bring with me the legacy of poets and thinkers who have made my work possible and contributed so much to American ideas and innovation. And what stunning company in this class! It is truly breathtaking.”

The new members of the academy will be inducted in October 2019 in Cambridge, Mass. CT


FIND MORE See full list of 2019 American Academy of Arts and Sciences members


Recent volumes documenting Mark Bradford’s work include “Mark Bradford (Phaidon Contemporary Artist Series)” and the exhibition catalogs “Mark Bradford: Tomorrow Is Another Day,” “Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge,” and “Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth.” Kellie Jones is the author of “South of Pico,” and “EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art.” She has also contributed to numerous exhibition catalogs, and edited “Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980,” and co-edited “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties. Michelle Obama’s post-White House memoir “Becoming” is a New York Times No. 1 bestseller, Oprah Book Club pick, and also won an NAACP Image Award.


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